Sunday, March 5, 2017

GROWTH MINDSET IN CSULB COURSE MATERIALS: CHEMISTRY & BIOCHEMISTRY

Dr. Shahab Derakhshan (in collaboration with general chemistry instructors, Marjan Mohammadi and Andrea Chen), and Dr. Michael Schramm (organic chemistry), Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, CSULB, developed syllabi with extensive growth-minded comments and tips for success. The examples are focused on the “importance of process” in learning, learning from mistakes, and metacognitive learning strategies (without necessarily mentioning the term “metacognition”).  The following are excerpts from their syllabi for CHEM 111A (General Chemistry I) and CHEM 220A (Organic Chemistry I) (with some text omitted and emphasis added).  

GENERAL CHEMISTRY I, CHEM 111A, (Dr. Shahab Derakhshan)

Dear CHEM 111A team:
Please treat this document as a guideline for your pathway to success. I am well aware that many of you are taking this class only because of your degree requirements and some of you may even dislike this subject. I also know that for some of you, some of the topics that are covered in the class will be never used in future life. However, I would like to assure you that we will discuss Chemistry as a tool to strengthen our intellectual ability, problem solving skills and critical thinking. Using Chemistry we will practice to become stronger individuals towards solving real life problems, which may be outside of the scope of Chemistry. I am sure that many of you who don’t like Chemistry now, will change your mind at the end of semester.

This class was traditionally known as one of the most challenging classes at CSULB. However, together with great students such as you and other resources available to assist us (TAs, SI leaders, advisors, etc.) we have successfully turned this challenge into a joyful and rewarding learning experience. My role here is nothing but coaching you during this journey and witnessing your academic growth, for which I will use my best ability. Of course you are the key players and by putting your best effort in the direction that is described in the following, you will be able to score very high and make your coach proud.

Here are some hints. Please read this document carefully and in a positive tone, these are only some advices and regulations that will increase your success. Please don’t treat this document as an enforcement tool to implement some tough/rigid rules. Remember that even when we play games, we obey the rules and still enjoy the experience. 

1)      Most of the students I meet during my office hours tell me that they attend the classes and labs, read the book, work on homework. However, some of them still don’t get the results that they want during the exams. I have noticed that the order of these activities are very important and play a big role on determining the success. The best practice from my point of view is: a) read the textbook before class b) come to the lectures with your questions  c) immediately after the lecture start working on the Mastering Chemistry and activity problems  d) ask for assistance on the questions that you have problem with before the next lecture.  

2) Try to read the material before coming to the class. Reading before the lecture, will help you to identify your weak points that require more focus and attention. I know that it is not easy to keep 100% of our focus during the entire lecture period. But if before the lecture we know our weakness, when it is covered during the lecture we will try to listen more carefully and if we still feel unclear, it is the best opportunity to ask questions. Remember that my explanations during the limited lecture hours are designed in such a way that your knowledge, obtained via your previous reading, will become crystal clear.

3)   My lecture notes, which will be posted before the class will contain a lot of blank areas. You will fill those blanks during the lecture. (I will never provide you with the completed electronic version. If you miss any class this is your responsibility to get them from your friends).

4)   Try to understand the material. We will discuss the materials conceptually and will try to avoid memorizing stuff as much as we can.

5)  There is nothing as a bad question. Don’t be shy. Ask if you need more explanations. I know for fact that the your questions are the same as your classmates’ (and perhaps they don’t even know that). Use all the resources for help. Ask during the lecture, use your office hours, both your TAs’ and mine. Remember your TAs and I are here to help you, so come to us with your questions.

6) […] AVOID GOOGLING THE QUESTIONS!!! The impact of each MC mistake you make in your total final grade is negligible compared to those you may make during the exams. The idea is to learn from our mistakes during our practice so they don’t happen during the tests. Even if this practice seems tedious, which I know it does, do your best and keep saying that practice is the key for any victory.


ORGANIC CHEMISTRY I, CHEM 220A, (Dr. Michael Schramm)

Organic chemistry is a very special subject, unlike anything you’ve studied before. Part chemistry, part physics, part biology, part problem solving. It is very reliant on drawing, thinking in 3D and using logic to solve problems rather than memorizing facts or reactions. It is not a difficult course, it is a different course. It is not impossible, it takes practice and dedication and a attitude that “I can do this.” An attitude that “I’ve heard this is tough” “If I fail I can take this class again” “I’m not good at chemistry” “I’ve never done good in chemistry” “I can drop if I don’t do well” these attitudes will be the ONLY reasons you don’t pass. Upon completion you will have access to a new world of molecules and understand their properties and how they react. You’ll be able to make predictions about new reactions you’ll uncover as you continue to study biology, biochemistry and chemistry. You’ll have a new appreciation of chemistry in your daily life, from paints, dyes, food products, polymers and plastics, liquids, solids, acids and bases. You’ll have a strengthened understanding of reaction thermodynamics and kinetics. You’ll also be able to propose how to make new molecules! You’ll have skills to analyze molecules using spectroscopic tools. You will be able to speak articulately about chemistry and chemical problems and have a deeper appreciation of science and confidence in your abilities to discuss and create using science. You’ll have critical skills needed to understand science you read about in news sources. You’ll have new confidence in your abilities to solve problems and you’ll develop new tools that you can use in other academic areas for success. All of these things you are capable of!

The recipe to do so follows: The best students who embrace the “I can do this” attitude, they make no excuses, they study routinely so that they always try to understand the material that has been presented to them in class. They don’t look for time to study, they set aside time for studying first, and friends and extracurricular activities second. When they don’t understand something they immediately get help by email or office hours. They come to each class understanding what happened in the last class, and thus learning new material continues to become easier and easier, confidence builds and time studying becomes more fulfilling and fun. 

Please open your calendars; Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday, set aside 2 hours of time to study Tuesday’s notes and do Tuesday’s problems. Between Thursday and Monday night, you need to put 5-6 hours of studying in, preferably in several small 2 hours blocks. […] If you get stuck, open the notes, or the text book, try your hardest. Don’t cheat yourself and look in the key, don’t ask a tutor to do your work for you! Show me your work right after class, or in office hours. I can rapidly affirm correct work or point out where you can improve. I won’t tell you you’re wrong! But I’ll show you where you can fix mistakes. Through this process you’ll learn how to do what the best students do, find their own mistakes. Right before exams, briefly review topics you feel good about and heavily review the topics you don’t feel so strong about. […]

What you can expect from me: I will come to every class prepared and energetic with a positive attitude about the material and your efforts to do you best. […] I will work especially closely with students who lack confidence, by helping to correct misconceptions about who can be successful in science (hint: anyone can!). I will be prepared in office hours with my best suggestions to help you move forward. I’ll answer your emails promptly M-F so long as I’m not occupied in other classes or meetings. I’ll give you meaningful and SHORT reading assignments. I will not assign the whole text to read. I’ll present the notes in a clear and logical way; when you study them you’ll also be prepared for the next lecture as well as the quizzes, homework assignments and exams. I will make quiz and exam questions logical, following material from class and assignments. I’ll present SOME questions that are meant to challenge you. I will not insult your intelligence by asking you to recreate what I do in class, I will change and modify the problems we learn in class so that you can grow as a student and find new ways to solve problems. I will not reward memorization. I will reward students who work through tough material to develop skills and logic. I’ll make exams fair, but challenging and fun so that positive minded students don’t feel anxiety about them, but rather feel “i can do this” “I’m looking forward to showing what I know and what I’ve studied. […]

What I expect from you: You will introduce yourself to me in the first two weeks. You’ll set up your calendar with 6-8 hours of study time that you will commit to every week, not just before exams and you will show it to me in office hours in the first three weeks. You’ll have 4 weeks to show me that you purchased, opened and are using your model kit in office hours. These expectations will result in bonus points. If you want them, come get them. You’ll come to class on time. You’ll be prepared for unannounced quizzes which will reward your weekly study - the quizzes will be easy if you study, impossible if you don’t. You will come to office hours for help with any issues you are having in the class or email me. You’ll show me your work after class or in office hours if you would like me to check it or help you improve and do your very best. 

You’ll come to office hours to develop an effective way to study for this course especially if you have a “this is too tough for me attitude.” Together we will develop an “I can” attitude. I expect you to pick up your quizzes and exams on time and review the keys. If you find something you don’t understand, you should come see me right away. I expect you’ll take good notes and do the assigned reading. Students can read the text on their own and I expect that if students want to they will figure out what chapters to read based on the problems I assign. Lecture will not follow the text book. The text however will always support lecture.[…]

All students will be treated equitably and fairly, don’t ask for special treatment because you’re unhappy about what you didn’t accomplish. I will be here all semester to help you succeed, but you have to do your best to prepare for the course and see me during the semester when we can do something about your performance. Everything you need to do well is described in this syllabus - so at the end of the semester, I expect you to show this course and your accomplishments the same respect that I will show you all semester.

You will have 16 weeks to show me your best work to accomplish what you decide you want to. Let’s get started now!


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